Jordan Zumwalt doesn’t smile all that much any more.
As a freshman, he was all grins and awe shucks, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
When called upon to start at middle linebacker after the season-ending losses of both Patrick Larimore and Steve Sloan, he was greener than a global warming activist and twice as rabid.
He scurried all over the field with his eyes darting to and fro, wider than saucers, the highly touted freshman simply playing, as he calls it, “on hype.”
A year later, he is calmer, more serious and, he believes, more prepared to assume starting middle linebacker duties once more with Larimore all but ruled out with a right thumb injury.
“I’m way more equipped to handle it,” said Zumwalt, who ranks fifth on the team with 50 tackles. “I understand how to handle situations better, rather than just going off emotion. I know the defense well, too – a lot better than last year, that’s for sure – so I have confidence in my play now.”
Clark Lea, UCLA’s linebacker coach, has confidence as well.
With the Bruins linebacker corps decimated by injury and ineligibility – in addition to Larimore, senior outside linebacker Sean Westgate (concussion) and junior middle linebacker Isaiah Bowens (academically ineligible) are out – Lea is expecting Zumwalt to play like he did during a three-game stretch late last season when he had 20 total tackles and two sacks.
“As a competitor, he wants a bigger piece, and that’s something that’s earned through work,” Lea said. “I know he wants to finish strong, and just through his own personal pride and competitive spirit, he’ll come out and play his butt off.”
At middle linebacker, Zumwalt is going to have to do a little more than that.
With the UCLA defense missing several players in its two-deep lineup, Zumwalt will be called upon to be a unifying presence on the field.
“Now going out there, I know what to expect,” Zumwalt said. “It’s not just going in and playing off emotion and hype. Now I go in, I have my cool with me, calm, collected, and I’m relaxed.”
Heck, he might even smile.